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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The two giants of spirit

2013, which Den declared as Year of Volodymyr Monomakh, is over, and 2014 will be dedicated to Taras Shevchenko
13 January, 2014 - 16:15
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

When our newspaper suggested 12 months ago that 2013 be declared Year of Volodymyr Monomakh to mark the 900th anniversary of the election of this outstanding statesman as Grand Prince of Kyiv, this may have surprised some of Den readers. Why Monomakh? Can the legacy of a person who lived 900 years ago be still of value today? Is it worthwhile to turn to this “hoary antiquity”? (It will be recalled that Den has previously declared years of Ivan Mazepa, princes Ostrozky, and the Sandarmokh List.)

 But now that the readers have seen a series of publications by Oleksandr PALII, Petro KRALIUK, Oleh YASTREBOV, Kostiantyn ATOIEV, and this writer, they will no longer ask this kind of questions. Those who have gained even superficial knowledge of the amazing life of Monomakh, a great Kyivan Rus’ statesman, a prominent warlord who protected Ancient Ukraine’s borders from the hostile forays of nomads, a wise lawmaker who knew how to find a way out of the gravest crises, a true European and humanist by his mindset, a talented temple builder, and, after all, a brilliant writer who created the famous Testament, will apparently agree to the opinion that it would be worthwhile to devote not only a concrete year but perhaps a whole century to studying and popularizing this ruler’s life path and creations.

 Indeed, Monomakh reached the highest level of authority in the state and ascended the Grand Prince of Kyiv’s throne, but he used this power not to enrich himself or get rid of his dangerous rivals but to consolidate the entire Rus’-Ukraine as a state. He was really a great politician, for he knew very well how to maintain a balance between the power-wielding princes (this kind of people have been, as a rule, rather egoistic, greedy, and cruel in all times) and peasants, artisans, and soldiers who lived (and still live) a not-so-sweet life. What is more, he knew how to win and maintain justice in society without revolutions. He was also a shrewd diplomat, who was aware of the European balance of forces, and a zealous fighter for Rus’, who took part in never-ending military expeditions for over 40 years and won a lot of victories. Yet he insistently called on his descendents: “Never kill anybody! Defend the weak, and protect orphans, the elderly, and the poor! If you are a prince, try to do all you can by yourself, do not trust important matters to others, do not be lazy because laziness is the mother of all troubles: you will forget what you used to know and will never learn what you did not know.” Such people as Volodymyr Monomakh are our national pride indeed. Den will turn to this unique figure over and over again.

 As for who the year 2014 will be dedicated to, this caused no doubts at Den’s editorial board – this will be the year of a non-canonical Taras Shevchenko. The point is not only on the Ukrainian genius’s 200th birth anniversary. We are sure that what every Ukrainian is in bad need right now is a non-canonical Shevchenko, a humanized (and, therefore, close to us, but not in the sense that you can familiarly slap him on the back) Shevchenko, a boundlessly multifaceted Shevchenko (“an old man in a sheepskin” as well as “an aristocratic dandy in a tailcoat” shamefully weaken the poet’s image), Shevchenko as hater of empires and despotism in general, patriot, and Ukrainian nationalist who, nevertheless, had (naturally enough) friends among the noble Russians, Shevchenko the “Hetman of the Word” (Lina Kostenko), a prophet and a powerful creator who used the power of his spirit and word to breathe life into our nation which seemed to have been put to sleep forever (a unique thing in the history of the world).

 So we are addressing our contributors – those who are known all over Ukraine and the more modest ones and thousands of our readers: come to know a new Shevchenko and write about him. But please do not reduce your studies to the well-known archaic stereotypes, and do not sing his loud, suave but hollow praises, for Shevchenko does not need this.

 Let us try together to reproduce his time, soul, exploit, and struggle. Then he will be easier to grasp (the simplicity and “easiness” of The Kobzar is a school myth). Incidentally, both giants of our spirit – Shevchenko and Monomakh – are, at the same time, statesmen and great magicians of the word, aren’t they?